As a parent, you have probably had lots of questions come to mind over the years about your child’s dental health. In my experience, sometimes parents will avoid asking these questions for fear that it will sound silly or that they should already know the answer. Fear no more!
My goal with this article is to answer some of the most common questions parents have and the ones that you might think you should know the answer to already.
Are you ready to find out more? Let’s get started.
When does my baby need to see the dentist for the first time?
The first dental visit should occur within 6 months of the eruption of your child’s first tooth, or by their first birthday – whichever comes first, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and American Dental Association.
How can I make it easier for my baby when they see the dentist?
First off, I would highly recommend seeing a pediatric dentist when establishing your child’s dental home. A pediatric dentist is a dentist who has received years of additional training on the management and care of pediatric patients. Their offices are also set up for children, so the environment is very child friendly.
The following are a few additional strategies you can employ - some of which will depend on the age of your child, if you have not taken your older child to the dentist yet.
- Reading age-appropriate books before the first visit can allow your child to recognize and familiarize themselves with what happens at the dental office. The Grin Kids “I Love Brushing My Teeth” book is a fun, hands-on resource for teaching kids the concepts of brushing and flossing and would make a great distraction to bring along to your child’s dental appointment.
- Bringing a comfort item from home can help for a child of any age. Having a familiar object helps to make your child feel safe in an unfamiliar setting. Remember that your child will be in a new place with many unfamiliar faces wanting to look inside their mouth – this can feel very unsettling for your baby or older child!
- Your attitude as a caregiver towards this new experience matters A LOT too! Children can sense your uneasiness, especially if you are fearful of the dentist yourself, so try to maintain a positive outlook for what this visit will entail.
- Keep your expectations realistic! If your child is fearful or apprehensive in new situations, keep that in mind. The dentist or hygienist may not be able to get a good look inside your child’s mouth at the first visit - if that happens, it is okay! The dental team can always try again next time.
The goal with the first dental visit is to establish trust with the dental team and allow your child to feel comfortable in this new environment. If your child leaves feeling happy, I would call that a good visit!
What will happen to my baby during teething? How to deal with it?
Your child’s experience with teething will really depend on your child. Other parents may have shared horror stories with you about their experiences, but this is not always so.
According to the American Dental Association, some common symptoms that your child might experience include:
- Increased irritability or fussiness
- Refusing to eat or loss of appetite
- Drooling or excessive salivation
- The desire to chew or gnaw
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
A word of note here: teething may cause an increase in body temperature, however, if your child has a fever of 100.4 degrees F or above, or develops vomiting or diarrhea, this is not due to teething and should be addressed with your child’s pediatrician.
To help your little one feel more comfortable during the teething process, the American Dental Association recommends offering them:
- Teethers or chew toys – plastic and rubber are good options. Avoid gel or liquid filled teethers; as well as teething bracelets or necklaces made of wood, marble, amber or silicone as these can pose choking and strangulation hazards.
- Cold things – a cold (but not rock hard) teether, or a cool washcloth that has been twisted and frozen.
- Frozen foods (if your child has started solids) – a frozen banana, or a frozen bagel.
- Massage – use a clean finger or damp washcloth to massage sore and swollen gums.
- Medication – speak with your child’s pediatrician about whether acetaminophen should be given when your child is extremely uncomfortable. Avoid teething gels and numbing agents as these are easily swallowed and can suppress your child’s gag reflex.
What should I do if my baby has a habit of sucking their fingers or using a pacifier?
Pacifier use and finger/thumb sucking is generally not an issue unless it becomes a prolonged habit. Many children will often discontinue this behavior on their own, however, if your child sucks vigorously on their fingers/thumb or pacifier beyond the age of 2-4 years old, there is a potential for change in your child’s occlusion (the way their teeth line up) as well as their jaw development.
To help encourage your child to stop, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends praising your child when they don’t suck on their fingers/thumb or pacifier. Rewards, and sticker charts can also be helpful methods for encouragement.
If you do notice visible changes with the shape of your child’s mouth, a consult with a pediatric dentist is strongly recommended.
Will breastfed babies also have tooth decay?
There is no absolute yes or no answer with this question as decay is a multi-factorial process, though it is possible since breastmilk contains natural sugar. Once solids have been introduced into your child’s diet, the potential for decay increases if your child is put to bed and their teeth have not been brushed properly. What should you do? Thoroughly brush your child’s teeth before bed, and if you nurse them to sleep, try to wipe (with a washcloth) or brush their teeth after their last feed. It may seem impossible to do this, but I did it for over a year with my son when he was nursing to sleep. Back then (this was 5 years ago), I didn’t have Grin Kids toothbrushes available to me, but I wish I did, because the brushes have super soft bristles which are great for a kid’s ability to tolerate, but they’re also effective at plaque removal which is what I care about the most.
Does flossing make the gap between the teeth bigger?
Not at all. The position of your child’s teeth is determined by their position in your child’s jawbone. Flossing does not have the ability to dictate or cause movement of teeth through the bone since it only uses gentle pressure on the tooth surface to clean it. If your child has two teeth that are in close contact, these are teeth you need to be flossing! In our household, we’re big fans of Grin Kids biodegradable flossers for their convenience and ease of use.
As you can see, there is a lot to cover with children’s oral health! This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions I have been asked, but they are among the most common. I hope you remember this the next time you talk to your child’s dentist or hygienist: there are NO silly questions.
About the Author
Katie Steger, BSDH, is a dental hygienist and mom and the founder of @healthyteeth.fortots, a platform designed to provide early childhood oral health education and support to parents. Katie is passionate about oral health education, the impact of nutrition on the developing dentition, and educating parents and families on strategies to make oral hygiene a priority.